Al Wathba Fossil Dunes – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Atlas Obscura

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Al Wathba Fossil Dunes

These otherworldly formations were shaped over millions of years by the forces of nature.  


Al Wathba fossil dunes are a little-known attraction on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. With the huge sun setting in the distance, the vast desert feels like a scene from any of the “Star Wars” films. These petrified fossil dunes are smaller than they appear in pictures.

A few million years ago, when the area was covered by water, eroded sediments settled at the bottom of these bodies of water. Over time, the fine-grained sand was covered by other layers of sediment. The layers became compacted and cemented together by different minerals, mostly salt crystals, into stable structures.

The formations got their shape from the interplay of wind strength and sediment supply. Despite relatively consistent prevailing wind directions in present-day United Arab Emirates, dune patterns and alignments vary considerably from area to area. This allows geologists to better understand the history of the land-forms and rock formations. These dune patterns are like works of art, each containing its own unique shape.

The location is a great spot for a picnic during the early morning hours, and the evening is great for camping. The sand formations are extremely fragile, some have already fell victim to human negligence, so please make sure you appreciate them from a distance and don’t climb on on this natural wonder. 

Know Before You Go

After a 30 minute drive on E30, you will reach a scantily populated, industrial area; past a sewerage plant, just behind Al Dhafra Military Air Base.

The dunes are located slightly off-road, they are not very tall, especially from the distance. It's not very easy to find them and essential to follow the google coordinates. You do not require a 4x4 car to visit. Camping is allowed, as long as you do not leave any garbage behind. 

Do not climb on the formations because they are fragile. 

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December 23, 2020

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